The purpose of art is to raise people to a higher level of awareness than they would otherwise attain on their own.
The function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, and to elevate the mind.
Art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.
The final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people.
Women’s Work, mixed media collage, 15 x 11 in
There are two distinct languages. There is the verbal, which separates people… and there is the visual that is understood by everybody. ~ Yaacov Agam
The Purpose of Art
As long as there has been art, people have debated its purpose. I’ve adressed the question on this blog several times. To put it simply, I think the purpose of art is both many, and one. OK, I’ll explain.
Art may be made as part of a healing process, as a way of telling a story, or as an agent for raising awareness about the need for social change. In my last post, I shared how my new series came about, and why I believe women’s rights to be such an important issue right now. But all of these are really only parts of one larger underlying purpose: communication.
Good Art Won’t Match Your Sofa
You may remember this ’90’s – I guess now we would call it a meme – by Fred Babb. The point is not that good art can’t match your sofa, but rather, that art is not just something pretty to look at. It’s so much more than a decoration. It has meaning, and should, in some way, speak to your soul.
See This Girl (The Pink Dress), mixed media collage on vintage book cover, 8.5 x 12
See This Girl (The Pink Dress), above, has a special place in my heart. The gender-based assignment of clothing has long been a way of restricting the activities of women. And it has been so pervasive for so long that we don’t even think about it.
I first became aware of dress reform as part of the women’s rights movement while working on a piece about Mary Walker (below). She was a Cival War surgeon, prisoner of war, and activist who was frequently arrested for wearing pants. (Read my original article here.)
When I was growing up in the ’60’s and ’70’s, girls were still not allowed to wear pants to school. For me, the ‘pink dress’ became a symbol of all the subtle expectations of femininity that girls grow up with. Passivity, modesty, and selflessness were seen as feminine traits, while assertiveness and self confidence were, and still are, more appropriate for males. Thankfully, that has begun to change, but we still have a long way to go.
Mary Walker’s Pants, mixed media collage on vintage book covers, 18 x 14 in
What I Have to Say
Production Line, mixed media collage on vintage book cover, 11.25 x 19 in
When I went back to school in my 30’s, I saw some of the traditional-aged art students struggling in terms of content. “How do you figure out what your work should be about?” they’d ask. The problem was that they didn’t have anything to say yet; they were too young. It took me a long time to realize what I wanted to say. Now, I find I have a lot to say. And more importantly, there’s a lot I have to say. Yes, there will be more.
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. ~ Edgar Degas